From Queen Bitch to C86: Fetishising Velvet Underground’s New York

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Published conference proceedingChapter


At a time when the first wave of rock aristocracy had embraced the peace and love ethos of 1967 psychedelia, the Velvet Underground appeared to redefine the frameworks of ‘authenticity’ in rock. Sonically they achieved this through a blend of disparate and seemingly oppositional styles that to the outsider appeared to capture the essence of the drug-fuelled hedonism of Warhol’s Factory. Lyrically their celebration of drug abuse, sadomasochism and prostitution made the Beatles’ LSD experiments appear mainstream managed. Lou Reed’s explicit accounts of inner-city social decay offering a voyeuristic account of a life that would never be seen along ‘Penny Lane’. To the British rock fan, the Velvet Underground’s dystopian art-rock offered distant exotica that existed in a world that was out of reach to all but Warhol’s New York art elite in a city that appeared quite alien. It was outsider music from which its audience would always be excluded, forever outsiders.

With almost non-existent critical response to the release of Velvet Underground and Nico in 1967 the only way to catch a glimpse of the Velvet’s world was through people with enough subcultural capital to be ‘in the know’ and in a powerful enough position to become a cultural intermediary. Enter David Bowie whose tastemaker role in publicising the Velvets was key to their early recognition. However, in becoming the messenger through the Velvet’s inspired ‘Queen Bitch’ from the Hunky Dory album, they became a part of Bowie’s story and more significantly his fetishization of New York as a mythological space. This same mythology would reach a critical mass with the C86 indie scene that defined itself through the fantasy New York.

This chapter will explore Bowie’s role as cultural intermediary in the emergence of the Velvet Underground and how he shaped a mythological presence that would become crystalized though their influence on the C86 scene.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Velvet Underground (and after ...)
EditorsSean Albiez, David Pattie
PublisherBloomsbury Continuum
Publication statusIn preparation - 2019


Cite this

James, M., & Hopkins, J. (2019). From Queen Bitch to C86: Fetishising Velvet Underground’s New York. Manuscript in preparation. In S. Albiez, & D. P. (Eds.), The Velvet Underground (and after ...) Bloomsbury Continuum.